Preface to Lyrical Ballads

by William Wordsworth

Start Free Trial

Which view did you prefer and why? William Wordsworth in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads or Coleridge in Biographia Literaria?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Personally I find the writings of Coleridge more compelling than those of Wordsworth in these two texts. This is because Coleridge explores the claims of Wordsworth and successfully and convincingly argues against them in some key areas. An example of this is Coleridge's view on Wordsworth's expression of his art as being natural, and written in a common language that everybody can understand. Wordsworth argues that poetry should be the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," and thus it is not crafted or based on artifice, as it is natural and springs forth from the soul. Coleridge, however, argued that all poetry is based on artifice, and that it is impossible to compose poetry that is, as Wordsworth argues it is, unreflective and instantaneous.

What is also helpful about Coleridge's work of criticism is that he successfully differentiates between what he called the primary imagination, the secondary imagination, and fancy. Note how he defines the primary and secondary imagination:

The imagination then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

This distinction is helpful as it depicts the primary imagination as being the divine ability to create, and the secondary imagination as the human ability to create through interaction with the primary imagination. Lastly, Coleridge defines fancy as simply being the ability to remember. Through this discussion of what the imagination is, Coleridge clearly takes Wordsworth's rather more simplistic claims about what poetry should be and explores them further, stating that the poet interacts with the primary imagination in creating their secondary form of imagination, but likewise upholding Wordsworth's Romantic ideals.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial